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CES Impressions 2018

CES 2018--Altered Carbon (Netflix)

I can now join the ranks of pretty much every journalist I talked to at CES who’s affirmed it’s become impossible to do a comprehensive show report. CES has gotten too big for any one human to cover it all.

 

Clearly, home entertainment AV products and manufacturers are no longer the focus, although exhibitors like Samsung, Sony, and other big guns were present, headphones and Bluetooth audio systems were abundant, and there was a floor or so’s worth (rather than a hotel’s worth as in years past) of high-end audio companies at the Venetian.

 

Much of what I saw and read about was all about “connectivity,” the Internet of Things, “smart” this and thatjeez, even Bluetooth hair-care systems and yadda yadda. Well, even though I’m a tech head, I don’t care about most of these things. I care about having an emotionally moving entertainment experienceand the products and technologies that can deliver it.

 

There were many times when this Baby Boomer felt alternately intimidated and overwhelmed by all the new tech, as opposed to being in my comfort zone attending AV-oriented shows like Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and CEDIA and checking out the high-end rooms at the Venetian. Perhaps CES by its very nature now presents a skewed picture of what’s really happening in home entertainment. The show used to be more representative of “our” world. Google “media room” and you’ll get about 1,230,000,000 results. That’s not a typo. So there’s lots of real world interest in the subject. Hmmm.

 

A bright spot (more like a bright acre or two) was the proliferation of virtual reality and augmented reality exhibits in the South Hall. Total home entertainment immersionnow that appeals to me, and judging by CES 2018, I have plenty of company. This isn’t just a gamer-geek novelty anymore.

 

Much was made of the power failure in the Central Hall on the second day of CES. The irony was lost on no one. It made me realize that any consumer electronics product is worthless unless it works. After the show, I visited a friend who spent much time yelling at his smart-home control so it could “hear” him. The man-machine interface ain’t perfect yet. Will CES 2028 have a Brain Implant Device Pavilion?

 

Seems like “artificial intelligence” has become the consumer electronics buzzword du jour. But how much of it is merely hype? This is something I want to investigate. Having your refrigerator create a shopping list or having a car with facial recognition isn’t exactly the same as IBM’s Watson or even Sophia the Robot.

The most subversive booth I saw was the Netflix exhibit promoting the upcoming Altered Carbon sci-fi series (shown at the top of the page). It featured highly advanced future tech that was completely fictitious. As I left the booth, I wondered how many people thought it was real.

 

What was the Big Picture here? I don’t know if anyone can see it anymore. Literally. Maybe a few years from now, publications will be sending AI-enabled robots that unlike us mere humans might actually be able to cover the whole show.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

The Children’s Hour

Hollywood morality

Why O why would anyone, under any imaginable set of circumstances, ever look to anyone in Hollywood for moral guidance? The disease of the cult of celebrity is now so pervasive and runs so deep that we’re coming to rely on show-biz types not only for governance but increasingly, it seems, for instruction on how to live our lives.

 

That, to repeat a refrain from my last piece, is madness. (Both this screed and the “Canary” are far more deeply intertwined than it might at first seem.)

 

We’re talking about entertainers here, for Chrissakespeople paid stupid sums of money to remain children, and just a generation or so removed from circus geeks.

 

And that goes right to heart of the matterand the problem: Only a culture desperate to stay in a state of arrested development would ever come to rely so heavily on people who know so little about what it means to have a meaningful individual and social existence.

Hollywood morality

Hasn’t anybody read Pinocchio? No, that’s rightwe only know the Disney version, and don’t know that in the original book the puppet, tired of being asked to try to separate right from wrong, quickly dispatches his cricket conscience by smashing him against the wall like a, well, bug. 

 

That character in that book, at this moment, is us.

 

We’re settling for sham forms of morality and government, andlet’s be really honestculture too. Everything seems safer and cleaner when you can hold the world at arm’s length, when you can indulge in a steady diet of atrocities without consequence, when you can damn others wantonly, without evidence or deliberation, from an unearned and simplistic sense of absolute certainty.

 

That kind of behavior can’t hold in any realistic version of reality. But, on the other hand, it’s the coin of the realmthe raison d’êtreof movies, TV, and just about any other form of entertainment. There are a few exceptions, of course (fewer every day), but mainly these diversions exist to make life seem simpler and easier than it is by using cartoon heroes to clean up all messes (like Mommy putting the toys back in the crib), which, through identification, gives us an unrealistic and dangerous sense of control.

 

But trying to point any of this out is increasingly like trying to yell into the wind. The camps in these various actions are so deeply entrenched in their positions, so unwilling to see anything except in their own versions of black and white, that they’re completely blind to the fact that they’re all being played like fiddles.

 

But this is what happens when you forget that Hollywood is just an illusion, created to amuse you, and start to take its grease-paint, pasteboard, digital world for real.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

What a Media Room Isn’t

Last week, the Roundtable’s Michael Gaughn hit me with an interesting question: “How do you build a better media room?” I love that question, because it immediately made me ask another: What even is a media room?

 

Dig through the post history here on the Roundtable and you’ll find plenty of thoughts about media rooms vs. home theaters and the relative merits of each. And from that you can start to draw some conclusions. A media room is definitely a multi-purpose media space—a place to watch films and TV, play video games, perhaps listen to music, but also to read, play board games, do yoga, and maybe even eat supper.

 

But none of the above really gets to the heart of what makes a media room different from any number of spaces in which you could do all of those activities and more.

 

So, what is a media room? Perhaps to get to the heart of that question, we need to describe what a media room isn’t—quite like the old joke about a sculptor who explained his artistic process as taking a piece of stone and carving away anything that didn’t look like a horse. To illustrate this subtractive thought process, let’s take a look at my dad’s entertainment system.

 

Pop has a gigantic 4K TV. He has a pricey surround sound receiver connected to a fantastic GoldenEar in-ceiling speaker system. He has a Blu-ray player, an Apple TV, a TiVo, and even a pretty solid one-room remote control solution, complete with voice control.

 

But calling my dad’s system a media room is a bit like calling my refrigerator a Quiche Lorraine just because it’s got eggs, milk, cheese, and turkey bacon in it.

 

Why, though?

media room

Well, for one thing, he also has a gigantic floor-to-ceiling glass wall that looks out over his pond, flooding the space with sunlight during the day and glaring reflections at night. The gigantic 4K TV? It’s tucked in a corner, in such position that you really have to turn your head to watch it from anywhere in the room. Behind it sits his subwoofer—a nice, high-performance option whose potential is held back by its less-than-ideal positioning. But he refuses to have it anywhere else, for purely aesthetic reasons.

 

Give me an afternoon and a modest budget for some motorized draperies and a few soft bits to dull the harsh surfaces of his room, and I could turn it into a media room. Let me pull the TV out of its hiding spot, rearrange the furniture, maybe put in a good in-ceiling subwoofer to alleviate his concerns about looks, and I could turn it into a damned fine media room—one that still allowed him to look out over his pond at the press of a button.

 

The truth is, though, Pop just doesn’t care enough to warrant the effort. AV performance is pretty much at the bottom of his priority list.

 

So, despite owning all the components typically associated with a media room, he most certainly doesn’t have a media room. What he has is a 21st-century den. And he’s perfectly happy with that.

 

Mind you, I realize I haven’t even begun to answer the question originally posed to me. But I’d love for my fellow Roundtable writers—and even our readers—to pick up the ball and run with it from here. What are the essential elements of a media room? What must it do, and what must it not do? Because I think we really need a firmer grasp on the concept before we start waxing on how to improve it. 

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

CES 2018: Beyond the Usual Suspects

Most people equate CES with fancy large TVs with crazy high resolution. But if you go beyond that, to the back of the main exhibition halls or over to the Sands Expo Center, you can find off-beat products and prototypes, and ideas that aren’t always reality—yet.

 

VR was everywhere this year, and there were plenty of robots to entertain us. Wearables are evolving—instead of trying to do all things, they’re branching out to take on specific tasks; and they’re finally beginning to show up in places beside the wrist. As expected, voice control also dominated the show.

 

Here are a few of the more unusual products I found.

CES 2018--Mira VR goggles

The Mira Prism VR unit ($149) has clear goggles and uses your smartphone as the processor so you’re no longer socially isolated when you experience VR. That made it different from the countless other VR units on display at CES—and for a girl who gets a bit motion-sick, a more likable experience.

 

Spire was one of my favorite finds this year. It makes wearables, well, wearable. The units are small devices that fit onto your clothing, like your bra. They’re sold in packs of one, three, or eight, and last up to a year and a half with no battery to change or charge—ever. The unit syncs to your phone when in range, but can retain information up to 24 hours if you’re not within range. The best part is you leave it on your clothing, even in the washer. I would love to test this item when it begins shipping in March.

 

Another wearable was Geo Sentinel’s Alzheimer watch. This device can collect and transmit data in real time, from heartbeat to blood pressure, and helps make sure your loved one doesn’t wander away.

 

The $100 Styx bracelet calls for help if you’re ever in trouble. I’m sure any parent would feel better if their daughters had this on their wrists when leaving for college.

 

Vivant launched an app called Steety that lets you share information with your neighbors about what’s happening around you. Did that mailbox get knocked over? You may not know what happened, but maybe Jim next door does and he can share it via the app.

ShadeCraft’s Sunflower is a remote-control outdoor umbrella complete with sensors that automatically open and close it. It also turns itself to keep you in the shade as the sun moves, and a neat bonus is that the shading fabric is made from 3D printing.

CES 2018--Hease robot kiosk

Hease is a robot kiosk that interacts with a client when they come into a building—not replacing the secretary, but providing information while simulating emotional reactions.

 

There was even a company named VocalID that collects, transforms, and regenerates voices. Anyone ever seen the Black Mirror episode where a loved one passes and a company takes their voice data to allow the person to still communicate with you?

CES 2018--Hypnos sleep mask

Want to keep those New Year’s resolutions? Dreaminzzz’ Hypnos eye mask ($99) uses light and vibration to help you sleep and teach you to breathe, and promises it can help you break your addictions.

 

Help was available in all shapes and sizes at CES. From the robots to Bite Helper, which promises to ease pain and itchiness from insect bites using thermo-plus technology.

CES 2018--Xoopar speakers

An honorable mention must go out to Xoopar for cutest mini speakers, which are shaped as little aliens in multiple colors. I can’t promise great sound because the area was packed, but man were they endearing.

 

Why put pictures of your children just on your phone? Now you can print them on your finger nails using a mobile printer by O’2Nails.

 

Another device that caught my eye was Grobo, a pod that allows you to grow great cannabis automatically. Because, why not?

 

But of all the fun, brilliant, surprising ways to use technology, my favorite at the show was Opcom’s Cube, a hydroponic herb and vegetable wall that lives inside your home. For $700, you can own your own wall and eat healthy all year long. Opcom also has a smaller unit for vine growing called the Grow Tent ($500).

—Heather Sidorowicz

Heather Sidorowicz is a frenzied mother of two who happens to also own an audio/video
technology company (Southtown Audio Video) in Buffalo, NY. When not designing or
selling or project managing or pretending to do financials, you can find her attempting to
stand on her hands at the yoga studio or writing in the third person.

My New Tech Resolution

There are two people in my life whose book recommendations I never ignore. The first is my daughter, with whom I share a brain. The second is my friend and mentor Brent Butterworth, who is, without question, the smartest human I know. So when he casually dropped a reference to Robert Lustig’s The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains in a conversation last week, I immediately rushed out and bought it. What followed was two days of outright fascination, a bit of righteous anger, and a ton of self-reflection.

tech gadgets--Hacking of the American Mind

I mention this merely because that book was weighing heavily on my mind when I read Adrienne Maxwell’s missive about all the technology that enters our lives during the Holidays, and the stress some of it brings with it.

 

What could those two things possibly have to do with one another? Well, perhaps it’s worth explaining what the book is actually about, because its title is a little vague. In its 352 pages, Lustig digs deep into three of the primary limbic pathways in our brains and bodies: cortisol (stress), dopamine (pleasure), and serotonin (contentment). I won’t spoil the meat of the book, since it deserves to be read with a fresh mind, but one of the key takeaways is that we as a society have, through no fault of our own, been conditioned to conflate pleasure with happiness. And that conflation is, very literally, killing us.

tech gadgets--Roku Ultra

Adrienne’s post also hit home with me because I had my own experience with tech-related elation and stress this Christmas. One of my favorite gifts this year was a Roku Ultra, a desperately needed upgrade over my tired and overheating Roku Stick, which served me well for five years but has recently become more a source of frustration than streaming bliss.

 

Here’s where the problem begins, though: The Roku Ultra supports the latest in Ultra HD and high-dynamic-range video, but to unlock all of that video goodness it also requires the very latest in digital copy protection, which my TV supports but my surround sound processor lacks. And the Roku Ultra doesn’t have dual HDMI outputs as my Ultra HD Blu-ray player does, so there’s no workaround!

 

As soon as I unboxed it, I felt my cortisol-fueled dopamine pathway begin to kick into overdrive. I need to replace my surround sound processor, too, if I want to get the most out of this little black box!

 

In the end, of course, that’s ridiculous. I’ll eventually replace my surround processor when the time comes. For now, I’m perfectly content with the faster operation, fewer lockups, and more reliable streaming provided by the new Roku. As I should be. I wasn’t unhappy with my old Roku because it lacked the latest in video format support—I was unhappy with it because I needed to reboot it every day. The new box solved that problem. So why did I immediately find myself wanting more?

 

I don’t want to give the impression I’m anti-technology here. Someone whose home has its own operating system has no place going on any sort of anti-tech rant. My point in all this is that, going forward, I’m going to focus more on tech upgrades that alleviate frustrations from my life rather than give me a quick dose of dopamine and long-term stress.

tech gadgets--Ecobee thermostat

My Ecobee thermostat, for example? It gives me all sorts of fascinating readouts and data to peruse. It feeds my dopamine pathways by rewarding me for making slight tweaks to my programming, informed by the charts and graphs it generates each month. In the end, though, all of that fuss saves me mere pennies. My time and energy are better spent letting it do its own thing. In other words, as with most of the technology in my life, I’m happier when it disappears—when it doesn’t call for my constant attention.

 

I’m generally not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m making one this year: Any new tech I add to my home (and believe me, there’ll be plenty) must meet that criterion. It must remove stress from my life, not add to it. So, instead of that shiny new iPhone X I’ve been drooling over and absolutely don’t need? I think I’ll add a motion sensor to my shower instead, to automatically turn on the bathroom vent fan when I bathe, which I always forget to do on my own (much to the displeasure of the missus). Instead of upgrading my Control4 remote in the bedroom to the latest model? I think I’ll add a second remote to the media room, so my wife and I stop bickering over the one in there now.

 

In other words, all new tech purchases this year will be made with an eye toward happiness, not pleasure. Because I never realized before just how much those two emotions conflict with one another.

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

I had offered to review the Amazon original series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel even before the show took home two Golden Globes earlier this week. I just wanted to spread the word about how fantastic this show is. I’m guessing those two awards—for Best Show and Best Actress in the “Television Series, Musical or Comedy” category—will do that far better than I can, but, hey, I’m going to make my case anyhow.

 

Set in 1950s Manhattan, the show tells the story of Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a devoted wife and mother who tends to the every need of her husband Joel, a salesman who aspires to be a stand-up comedian. When she’s not measuring her thighs (can’t gain too much weight, after all) or getting up before dawn to apply her makeup (can’t let the man see your real face, after all), she’s using her quick wit, effortless charm, and great cooking skills to get Joel a better time slot at the Gaslight comedy club or to convince the rabbi to join the family for Yom Kippur dinner.

 

Midge’s world suddenly turns upside down when, after a particularly bad set at the Gaslight, Joel announces that he’s leaving her. After a bit too much wine and a late-night subway ride, Midge finds herself at the club, on the stage, doing her own set. Surprise, surprise—she’s actually the funny one, and aspiring manager Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein) is determined to make her a star.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

As one would hope, this show about stand-up comedy has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino of Gilmore Girls fame, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has a similar penchant for snappy, fast-paced dialogue and delightfully quirky characters. But this show also has a sharper edge to it, both in its humor and tone, as it explores what it means to be a woman in the ’50s. Midge is finally free to figure out who she is, but are the people in her life ready to accept the real her? Is society?

 

Brosnahan shines as Midge from the get-go, but what I enjoyed the most was watching the supporting players—who are drawn with broad, almost stereotypical strokes in the pilot—gain form and substance in their own right. Tony Shalhoub is especially good (when isn’t he?) as Midge’s father, Abe. At the end of Season One, the one-woman show has evolved into a strong ensemble piece with only one real flaweight episodes just ain’t enough.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

Darryl Wilkinson’s Wishlist for 2018

2018 Wishlist--Net Neutrality

I originally had a couple of things on my Wishlist for 2018, including a desire to see the United States Congress take legislative action to overturn the recent FCC ruling that undermines the concept of “net neutrality.”

 

If you haven’t been paying attention to the whole net neutrality policy debacle, you should. It’s an important issue. No, considering how much we all rely on the internet—for everything from watching cat videos to telemedicine, education, research, and the dissemination of vital lifesaving and life-improving information—unrestricted and open access to Internet content is vital to our entire modern, technological society.

 

At its core, the concept of net neutrality is that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) should not be able to restrict access to, or reduce the speed of, your connection to certain content or websites. In other words, ISPs should be regulated as utilities, just like water, gas, and electric providers.

 

Some peopleespecially FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who voted along with two of his four other colleagues on the FCC to reverse the decision to regulate the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934argue that regulation of the Internet stifles innovation. That’s not what hundreds of small ISPs and millions of Americans told the FCC during the public-comment time period. But such is the way of politics and big-money lobbyists.

2018 Wishlist--Net Neutrality

I wouldn’t have devoted this much space to net neutrality had it not been for the following press release I received yesterday from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA):

 

CES 2018 Update: FCC Chairman Pai Will Not Be Attending

Arlington, VA, January 3, 2018 – The following quote is attributed to Gary Shapiro, president
and CEO, Consumer Technology Association (CTA) – owner and producer of CES®:

“Unfortunately, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is unable to attend
CES 2018. We look forward to our next opportunity to host a technology policy discussion
with him before a public audience.”

 

It’s not enough that Chairman Pai voted to overturn the previous regulations regarding ISPs’ handling of Internet content. The Chairman has now decided not to appear in a public forum and answer questions regarding the FCC’s egregious decision.

 

Evidently, he feels confident enough to make a decision that will affect the lives of tens of millions of Americans (and, potentially, billions of people around the world) against the vociferous opposition of millions of those very Americans—yet he doesn’t have the courage to appear at CES 2018 in front of the mere thousands of professionals in the industry likely to be most affected by the ruling.

 

So, yes, my No. 1 wish for 2018 is that Congress overrules the FCC on this decision. My second wish is that Chairman Pai feels enough public pressure that he decides to resign his position and move on to some other highly paid, lawyerly government-advisor position. Or perhaps his friends at Verizon (where he worked for two years in the early 2000s as, according to Wikipedia, “Associate General Counsel . . . where he handled competition matters, regulatory issues, and counseling of business units on broadband initiatives”) can find a position for him at that regulation-overburdened corporation.

—Darryl Wilkinson

During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for
Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday
cage hoodie.

Darryl Wilkinson’s Best of ’17

Best of 2017--Amazon Alexa

Voice control is no longer a spectacular, high-dollar, glitch-prone technology only geeky early-adopters would spend the money on and then tolerate the hiccups. It’s still not glitch-proof, but voice control has become mainstream thanks to a number of big-name companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.

 

It’s Amazon, though—in large part thanks to its enormous financial and marketing resources—and its Alexa Voice Service that’s brought voice control out of the maker spaces and into people’s homes. So, I have to say that Alexa integration into so many extremely affordable devices is at the top of my Best of ’17 list.

 

That’s not to say that having Alexa as part of wireless speakers, streaming TV boxes, puck-shaped squawk boxes, clock radios, and whatever else it’s being thrown into is a world-changing development. In my house, getting the latest weather forecast is the No. 1 thing I use Alexa for.

 

While I’ll admit to playing a lot of Jeopardy with my daughter (but only enough to rank it in the Top 20% of uses), the No. 2 activity I use Alexa for is a two-parter—and both parts involve my theater room. Part A is to turn on/off or dim the lights in the theater. Part B is to fire up the system for the particular TV-watching activity we’re going to enjoy. This might be, for example, watching a recording on the Dish Hopper 3 DVR or watching a 4K movie streamed from Netflix using the Roku Streaming Stick+ I just installed.

Best of 2017--Echo Dot

Early in 2017, Control4 made it possible to integrate an Alexa-enabled device (I use an Echo Dot in the theater room) into its automation systems. So instead of pushing a single button on a remote control to initiate a sequence of commands, now I say a single phrase: “Alexa, turn on Watch Dish!” or “Alexa, turn on Watch Netflix!”

 

Before you begin to think that’s a trivial, lazy-ass use-case for Alexa, I should explain the scenario. Most evenings, our family eats dinner in the theater room. It’s not easy fumbling for a light switch or a remote control when your hands are otherwise occupied carrying a plate, silverware, a drink, and (if we remember) a napkin. It’s a convenient timesaver that also makes the theater spill-resistant. (Though not, as we’ve experienced several times, spill-proof.)

 

Voice integration isn’t a control panacea. There are more activities that don’t lend themselves to voice control than ones that do. Alexa integration, as far as I know, doesn’t have any earth-shattering consequences, either. No one, for instance, is doing brain surgery using an Echo Dot. Although nothing in the home-entertainment world is all that earthshaking when you get right down to it, Alexa and the overall integration of voice control is about as close to a rumble as it gets in AV—which is why Alexa integration is my pick for the Best of 2017.

—Darryl Wilkinson

During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for
Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday
cage hoodie.

Merry Techfest!

tech gadgets--walkie talkies

If your Christmas Day was at all like mine, you spent about one hour opening gifts, one hour eating items with the word “candied” somewhere in the description, and eight hours performing some manner of tech support.

 

Yes, it was another tech-centric year in the Maxwell household, complete with Apple Watches, Echo Dots, and even some old-school walkie-talkies—which, judging by the amount of neighborhood chatter we eavesdropped, are making a huge comeback with the kiddos.

 

Somewhere around Hour Five of staring at LCD screens, rebooting routers, resetting passwords, and explaining to the eight-year-old how Stranger Danger applies to the world of short-range radio, I had a bit of a Charlie Brown meltdown. Is this really what Christmas is all about?!

tech gadgets--Echo Dot & Apple Watch

OK, I might be exaggerating. In truth, the Apple Watch and Echo Dot are some the easiest devices I’ve set up lately. (I’m looking at you, Xbox One X.) I think my frustration really stemmed from the question that nagged at me all day long: Do we really need any of this stuff, or have we reached the point where we’re just buying tech for tech’s sake?

 

The Apple Watch is cool, but it’s just a pricey conduit for the iPhone located 10 feet away. Have I really gotten so busy (lazy?) that I can’t just walk over and pick up my phone to access the exact same information? Yes, but waiting for that fingerprint recognition to unlock the screen takes soooo long . . .

 

As for the Echo Dot, Day One left me feeling like it was a nifty parlor trick. Perhaps as I more fully integrate the device into my life over the next few weeks and months, its worth will become more evident. I have several friends who absolutely love their Echo products. Voice control has become an indispensable part of their whole-house control systems.

 

The problem is, I don’t own a whole-house control system. I’ve got a couple of smart Lutron Caseta lighting switches and a smart Honeywell thermostat—both of which support Alexa, so integration was a snap. Admittedly, it was fun to be able to say, “Alexa, turn off the living room lamp” at bedtime. Of course, my very next thought was, “I really need to add more smart home products to make the most of this thing.”

 

I guess I know what to put on next year’s Christmas list.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

A Visit to the Leon Loft

I had heard a lot about Leon Speakers and the artistic culture that permeates the company. Noah Kaplan, its CEO, is the driving force behind Leon in more than one way. He runs a well-oiled machine that is producing top-performance speakers with an emphasis on customization. But he also understands that technology without design is half as powerful. An artist himself, Noah knows instinctively that design makes technology more “relatable” to the end-user.

 

That understanding defines Leon Speakers. It also defines Rayva’s mission, which is why my trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan was so invigorating.

 

Noah has surrounded himself with a team of artistic-minded engineers. The energy that comes out of the Leon Loft (as they call their facility) is palpable. When I took a tour of their offices and factory, two things drew my attention: One, every wall is filled with eclectic artwork, an extension of Noah’s artistic personality.

And, two, everybody I was introduced to seems to have an artistic backgroundthey all paint or sculpt or play music. This has an obvious impact of the work they do for Leonthey don’t see themselves as laborers who work 9 to 5 producing impersonal widgets. They are artists who take ownership of what they do, and they are proud of their factory’s culture.

The main purpose of my trip to Ann Arbor was to find out more about Leon’s speakers and how they could be incorporated into a media-room wall unit I am in the process of designing for Rayva. But my extensive tour of their factory gave me additional ideas about working with Leon besides just using their speakers for the media-room unit.

The design principle behind Rayva is to commission artwork from painters and sculptors that I then help incorporate into dedicated theaters as limited-edition designs. During the Leon tour, I saw an exciting sculptural piece Leon produces that is meant to hide an array of speakers. I recognized it right away as something that can be developed into an additional design for Rayva. Leon’s Senior Industrial Designer Rob Waissi and I are working together to make this happen. We also plan to develop a media-room unit inspired by the various pieces of industrial artwork that hang on the walls of the Leon Loft.

I spent the evening of my visit to Ann Arbor having dinner with Noah Kaplan and his Senior Account Manager Camila Ballario. Camila lives and breathes the Leon Speakers culture and seems to be an extension of Noah’s energetic personality. During dinner, Noah started drawing something on his plate using his finger as brush and wine from his glass as paint. The drawing, an impression of me, was done with the same focus and commitment that define Noah’s personality. I was impressed and surprised at the same timeexactly how I felt throughout my brief visit to the Leon Loft.

 

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.